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Reps condemn unlawful detention of journalists

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Lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Tuesday condemned the incessant arrest and detention of journalists in the country while carrying out their constitutionally assigned role.

Coming under a motion of urgent public importance titled “Need to curtail the incessant and unlawful arrest and detention of journalists by law enforcement agencies”, sponsor of the motion and member representing Abak/Etomi Ekpon/Ika Federal Constituency, Akwa Ibom State, Clement Jimbo, lamented the spate of unlawful arrest of journalists in Nigeria, saying the development must be addressed to protect the Fourth Estate of the Realm.

The Green Chamber stressed the importance of a free press to the growth and sustenance of democracy and warned perpetrators of harassment against journalists to desist from such practice.

Following the adoption of the motion, the House urged the Nigerian Police Force and other law enforcement agencies “To cautiously and democratically rely on Section 24 of Cybercrime Act 2015 as amended and/or charge anyone including journalists to court if they have violated any law of the land instead of depriving them of their constitutional right.”

It further pledged to “Pass laws to strengthen press freedom protections, as well as conduct inquiries into recent cases of journalist detention, and engage in diplomatic efforts to pressure the government to respect press freedom.”

Leading the debate, Jimbo said, “There has been a troubling increase in the number of journalists being unlawfully arrested, detained, and harassed for carrying out their professional duties, relying on the offence of Cyber-stalking within the Cybercrimes Act, 2015.

“In recent times, between 2015 and 2024, there has been incessant unwarranted arrest, unlawful detention and several other forms of harassment and intimidation meted out at least 25 journalists in the course of their duty, which is threatening the very fundamental pillar of democracy, and culminating into a breach of their constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech.”

Jimbo also noted that despite the move by the Federal Government to promote freedom of speech, journalists continue to suffer untold harassment at the hands of law enforcement agencies.

“Earlier in 2024, the President signed the Amended Act with a substantial adjustment on Section 24, which listed what constitutes cyber-stalking and provided the punishment for such.

“The law enforcement agents neglected this aspect and continued their clampdown on free speech.

“Regrettably, at least 10 journalists have been arrested in the past year and 15 of them in the last regime,” he added.

Should this trend continue unabated, the All Progressives Congress lawmaker said the practice of the profession might become too difficult to venture into.

“The House is concerned that apart from this arrest of journalists and its consequences, it may lead to a worsening climate for investigative and independent journalism in the country’s media space, and this Fourth Republic democracy will be impugned by her admirers due to the excesses of those perpetuating this act of arbitrary absolutism.

“The House is worried that the arrest in March 2024 of Mr Daniel Ojukwu, in particular, was most disturbing as his commando-style arrest came barely 43 hours after this year’s World Press Day.

“Actions like this have led to international opinion rating Nigeria as one of West Africa’s most dangerous places to practice by Reporters Without Borders,” he added.

 

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